The closest I ever got to Don Johnson (Sonny Crockett) was meeting his wife’s younger half sister, years ago in the South of France. In fact, she was from LA and therewith ended my rather tenuous connection to my fantasy world of Miami, the fast cars, the Art Deco buildings and men in pastel jackets and loafers without socks. Then my cousin, my childhood heroine and role model who has been a professional expat roving through the alphabet from Bogota to Quito, finally settled in Miami with her family. Just a few years older than I, and to this day an absolute beauty, she has always epitomised total sophistication to me. When I was a chubby freckle faced, pig tailed 10 year old, she was 16, wore kitten heels, had a quilted bamboo handled handbag, wore her hair in an up do and blue eye shadow and listened endlessly to Connie Francis and the smooth grooves of Percy Sledge. She went to boarding school, secretly smoked, was learning to drive and held long whispered telephone conversations with her all American sweetheart, John, the man she is still happily married to now, all these decades later. I was her little ally (and alibi) in any misdemeanours and she in turn, gave me Barbie dolls and street cred by proxy. A happy symbiotic relationship which continues to this day, only that the the age gap seems to have shrunk as have the misdemeanours. So when this paragon of glamour moved to a Florida address which contains words like ‘coco plum’ and ‘coral gables’ it seemed churlish not to visit on a regular basis !
Frankly, we don’t do much when I visit Miami. We sit by the pool and yack, pretty much from the moment I arrive till it’s time for me to leave again. But, of course, a person gets peckish and then there is the shopping opportunity which shouldn’t be missed…..Well, you know how it is….
Kate Spade, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus beckon like the sirens of Greek mythology and, of course, prices and selection are better in the US than in Baku or London. The attractive, small and compact local mall, the Village of Merrick Park, offers up all these and much more and here, in a chic shop right beside Jimmy Choo, I also discovered Spanish leather goods brand Purificacion Garcia, www.purificaciongarcia.com, which sells super stylish good quality handbags at surprisingly reasonable prices. A noteworthy find!
American cuisine I find fast, fun and indulgent but often, to my mind at least, it lacks purity and finesse. And healthy it ain’t! But still, in good company, sitting under the stars on a warm evening, who’d complain!
Berries in The Grove, Coconut Grove
2884 SW 27th Ave, Miami
This is a simple unfussy neighbourhood joint, a kind of sports bar/ family restaurant where dogs are welcome too. It has Formica tables and paper napkins, a buzzy atmosphere and a menu that covers all the family favourites. We had a white fish ceviche with tostones which was pleasant if a little acidic, a good tuna tataki and a mushroom pizza which was okay but nothing to write home about. All in all, this is a fun place to hang out if you want a quick uncomplicated bite. Saturday is lobster night with plenty of different crustacean dishes at moderate pricing.
Michael’s Genuine, Downtown Miami
130 NE 40th St, Miami
Set in the super trendy Miami Design District www.miamidesigndistrict.net where you find top of the range designer shops within the retained edginess of a previously ‘rough’ area, Michael’s has the somewhat incongruous feel of a pub with a beer garden. It calls its cuisine ‘American Nouvelle’, although, I assure you, there is nothing ‘nouvelle cuisine’ about the portions or, in fact, the preparation! The menu offers some interesting food combinations, a mix of comfort food and originality, plenty to tickle the taste buds though little joy for vegetarians. Dishes come in ‘small’, ‘medium’, ‘large’ and ‘extra large’, so you can order according to your hunger or your desire to share, a clever concept. Five of us ordered deep fried hominy, maize kernels which I had never tried and much enjoyed, chicken liver pate crostini, a solidly good mahi ceviche, steak, an enormous moist and tender pork chop on the bone, an excellent short rib pizza and, the piece de resistance, crackly crispy skinned pork belly with hot and spicy kimchi which tasted heavenly.
And then the desserts…! Popcorn Icecream with milk chocolate peanut butter cake and a mandarin mousse with a fresh mini donut and a tart blob of jam really rang my bell! Delicious!
The service was very efficient and super friendly, American style, but I was put out that although I had left my credit card behind the counter with a request that I cover the bill, when challenged by one of my male guests, the server responded by telling me that in his book ‘a lady should never pay’. Well meant, no doubt, but disrespectful, condescending and, ultimately, humiliating. I found this inappropriate.
Casablanca Seafood Bar & Grill
400 NW North River Dr
This restaurant, once again in Downtown, romantically overlooking the Miami river, tug boats and restored warehouses, has absolutely no connection to the Moroccan city of the same name. It’s a Cuban style seafood place. The ambience sitting out on the deck with the city lights twinkling all around and the sounds of water lapping, is something else! It’s very casual and nothing fancy but what it does, it does supremely well. The portions are enormous and there is a wonderful variety of everything fishy. We had oysters, paella, the locally famed stone crab, tuna tartare, excellent subtly lime flavoured ceviche, calamari fritti with aioli, multi coloured tortilla chips with a tasty fish pate and huge plates of steamed seafood and it was all excellent, fisherman fresh and juicy.
Service was friendly, brisk and efficient. I am told that the neighbouring restaurant, Garcia, is more basic but also well worth a visit if you like fresh well prepared fish.
105 NE 3rd Ave, Miami
Peruvian Cuisine is so where it’s at here in Miami and boy, do I like it! It’s light, it’s healthy and it offers a broad spectrum of flavours. As the name suggests, this cool contemporary all white restaurant specialises in many different types of ceviche, from hot and spicy to mild and creamy but also serves all manner of other typical dishes. We came here for my farewell lunch and ordered a delicious spicy white fish ceviche with boiled sweet potato, maize kernels and a kind of popcorn which is ‘imploded’ rather than the popped cinema type version. All this sits in a light lime juice with red onion slithers. We also had a stacked sweet potato, avocado, yellow pepper and shrimp ‘cake’ which looked gorgeous and tasted divine.
As so often, my sweet tooth then got the better of me and I simply had to try the Suspiro de Limeño dessert, a dulce de leche topped with a creamy whipped meringue and a jammy coulis; though very sweet it was just ideal shared among four spoons as an accompaniment to some good strong coffee.
Service was friendly and competent. Parking in this area is not easy but there is a very efficient if not cheap (US$10) valet parking service.
Five days in Miami, four memorable restaurant meals, lots of ceviche, sweet treats and happy moments with family and friends! The waistband is considerably tighter now than when I arrived, so a few days of hardcore self control will be the order of the day when I arrive back home. But the memory chest too is filled to the brim with sunshine, laughter and wonderful experiences! And all that without ever clapping eyes on Sonny Crockett!